Jon Daniels's July trades for ace Cole Hamels and relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson were critical in the Rangers' surprising push to the AL West title. Texas, which allowed 4.8 runs per game through the end of July (and went 50--52), cut that in the season's final two months by more than half a run, to 4.1 (and went 38--22). But the trades alone didn't bolster the staff. The team got starter Derek Holland back on Aug. 19, and while he was erratic (a 4.91 ERA and 11 home runs allowed in 10 starts), he came up big against the Angels on Sept. 5 (eight innings, one run) and in the postseason clincher last Thursday (61/3 innings, three runs). Those starts were a reminder that Holland, 28, was on his way to stardom before a series of injuries—a torn left meniscus, a strained left shoulder—ruined his 2014 and '15 seasons. He threw four shutouts in '11 and was a World Series hero for the Rangers that October, hanging 81/3 scoreless innings on the Cardinals in Game 4. For a team whose rotation was a weak spot until August, Holland is a critical player behind Hamels, rising above the designation of "innings guy" even though he made just four quality starts this season. Matching up with the Jays, the best-hitting team in baseball against lefties, creates an enormous challenge for him. Holland will have to lean heavily on his curve, which produced a 31% swing-and-miss rate against righthanded batters this season; the curve is the rare pitch aginst which the Jays didn't post league-leading numbers.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED